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Anthropology | Social Justice Colloquium Series

2017 Spring Social Justice Series

Mondays, 4:00-5:00 p.m., in the Humanities Lab (Battelle-Tompkins 228)

Sponsored by the American University Department of Anthropology

Coffee and treats provided.


January 30

Autocracization 101: Turkey's Last Decade as a Lesson for the Era of Blatant Fascism in the US

Ali E. Erol, School of International Service, American University

Fascism has made its biggest global comeback since the second world war. While some might argue that the ghost of fascism has always been present, it has been especially at work in Turkey since mid-2000s. Today, people in Turkey are living amidst a state of emergency that has been extended for the third time, being ruled by the same person who came in power in 2002, its civil society almost completely eradicated with excuses of terrorism, and is one of the top countries that jail journalists and political dissidents. In this talk, I will briefly sketch this history by outlining specific discursive, legal, and social strategies that the Turkish state used since 2010 to advance its grip on political and social power. The purpose will be draw caution, as well as parallels, between newly elected Trump administration in the US and Turkey's decade long road to becoming and autocracy.



February 6

Sentient AI and the Ethics of Robot Sex Companions

Rebecca Gibson, Department of Anthropology, American University

As we move closer and closer to the reality of sentient AI technology, a burgeoning market for realistic sex companion 'dolls' has formed within certain portions of society. I examine how science fiction both forms and reifies the ever-shifting boundaries of what is considered ethically appropriate when a companion is not human, but is human enough.


February 13

Critical Collaborations and Conflicts: Deaf People, Development, and Social Change

Audrey C. Cooper, Gallaudet University, and Allen Neece, Peace Corps

Focusing on examples of collaboration between international development practitioners and deaf communities, this presentation addresses the politics of development (transnational, linguistic, and otherwise) and the global context in which such collaborations must increasingly operate--specifically, that of disability-oriented discourses and mechanisms.

Deaf communities around the world have long engaged in activities oriented toward creating better social conditions for themselves, their families, communities, and larger societies. Whereas these activities have largely been ignored by social science and the "development industry" (Jackson 2005), over the past two decades international development mechanisms have turned attention to "disability" and to "helping" deaf people--most recently under the guise of "inclusion." In this context, (sign) language is enlisted as a marker of disability, rather than a feature of human capacity and expression. Case examples explored include Deaf and sign language-centric activities in places where the presenters have been most active: Việt Nam, Rwanda, Guyana, and Kenya.


February 20

Whither the Wealth? Using Debt to Make Workers Richer and Poorer

Daniel Souleles, Brandeis University/Georgetown University

Over the last 40 or so years attitudes towards debt has changed the way American companies are governed and share their wealth. The best known manifestation of these changing attitudes is private equity and the leveraged buyout, a process by which financiers take control of companies and manage them as investments. Less well known, but using similar leveraged mechanisms, are employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) companies, in which borrowing is used to create a an employee owned trust and share the equity of a company with employees. This talk will compare private equity and esop owned companies and ponder what it means that the techniques of leveraged finance can both distribute and concentrate wealth.


February 27

Supporting Refugees in the Age of Trump

Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars, American University

Undergraduate scholars will discuss a recent trip to learn about and volunteer with refugees in Greece, as well as current efforts to raise money and support for refugees worldwide.



March 6

Randa Serhan, Department of Sociology, American University

Title and abstract TBA


March 20

Uncovering Mexico's Third Root: The Social Impact of Africans and African Descendants in Colonial Mexico

Julie Wesp, Department of Anthropology, American University

At least 250,000 enslaved Africans arrived to the colony of New Spain from the early 16th to the 18th centuries, yet their contribution and that of their descendants to colonial society has often been overlooked within the Mexican national identity. This invisibilization has not only caused national and international misunderstandings about the history of slavery in New Spain, but also pervasive prejudice and discrimination against modern Afro-Mexican descendant communities. This talk explores how archaeological research can help draw attention to the essential role that enslaved Africans and their descendants played in the success of the New Spain viceroyalty and the socio-cultural impact that their presence had on Mexican society. In particular, I will explore skeletal indicators of activity for a group of individuals of African descent from the Hospital Real San José de los Naturales in Central Mexico. This bioarchaeological perspective of colonial activity illustrates a varied experience of labor opportunities that in turn influenced the social relationships among the diverse residents of the urban capital of New Spain.



March 27

Black Ball: The 'Bad Boys' of Professional Basketball's Most Notorious Decade

Theresa Runstedtler, Department of History, American University

Theresa Runstedtler will speak about her current book project, tentatively titled, "Black Ball: The 'Bad Boys' of Professional Basketball's Most Notorious Decade." This project explores the intersection of race, labor, and criminalization in 1970s basketball, often mischaracterized as the "Dark Ages" of the NBA. The label "dark" referred not only to the blackening of professional basketball's workforce, but also to the sport's growing associations with black urban violence, crime, immorality, and cultural expression. This book examines the struggles between black athletes, the league, and their majority-white fans over working conditions and the future direction of the sport. In doing so, it asks, how did this emerging class of professional players shape the terms of their labor in the wake of the "Revolt of the Black Athlete"? What was their symbolic function in broader debates over the state of African American manhood, culture, society, and politics in the 1970s? In particular, her talk will draw from two chapters in progress: 1) "Drug Panics and Discipline," which investigates the racialized discourses surrounding the players' use of "street drugs" and the consequent expansion of the NBA's private security force and anti-drug policy, and 2) "Punishing Violence," which explores the public uproar over Kermit Washington's (African American) infamous punch of Rudy Tomjanovich (white) as a window onto contemporary ideas about black masculine pathology and crime.



April 3

Translation on Trial: The Perlocutionary Effect of a Mistranslation

Liz Kelley, Department of Anthropology, Georgetown University/Arab Studies, School of International Service, American University

Translation is an interpretive act, yet, in the courtroom as on the battlefield, translations are called on to be authoritative, final, and even transparent (see Rafael 2012). In this paper, I will explore how a mistranslation of a word found in a notebook by U.S. soldiers in Iraq in 2003 sparked a sting investigation into the imam of a mosque in Albany, New York. The investigation and subsequent trial operated according to a preemptive logic of potential threat and mobilized a security apparatus that included 11 federal, state, and local agencies. The paper examines the enduring perlocutionary effect of this mistranslation, one that persisted even after the word was retranslated. I will examine how this case is recruited by both Islamophobic organizations to support claims of the existence of "radical Islamic terrorism" within the US and by civil liberties organizations who contest the methods of policing at stake and highlight how individuals and communities are impacted by aggressive surveillance and policing.


NOTE SPECIAL DAY, TIME, LOCATION: April 5, 5:30, Mary Graydon Center 2

"Journey into Europe": Film Screening and Discussion with Professor Akbar Ahmed

Akbar Ahmed, School of International Service, American University

Description: Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies (SIS), will screen part of his new film Journey into Europe and engage the audience in a discussion. "Journey into Europe" explores Islam in Europe and the place of Islam in European history. With interviews featuring prominent political and religious leaders, the film's themes of identity, acceptance, and understanding are critically relevant to our world today.


April 10

The Importance of Implementing Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Education — Meaningful Diversity Can't Be a Solo Act

Arvenita Washington Cherry, Department of Anthropology, American University

This presentation will discuss issues of racial and ethnic identity for students, parents, and educators in Prince George's County, Maryland and will engage participants in thinking about how diversity initiatives broadly, can be more transformative.



April 17

Public Anthropology Presentations

Masters of Arts in Public Anthropology Candidates, American University

Lauren Ainsworth, "Fighting the Black Snake: The Implications and Efficacy of Anthropology at Standing Rock"

The purpose of this research is to identify the ways in which anthropologists can utilize their skills to contribute to the No DAPL movement at Standing Rock and engage in the indigenous sovereignty and environmental rights movements. This is done through examining the relationship between academics and activism, an analysis of the history of anthropologists and indigenous relations, and the utilization of other ethnographic methodologies.


Caroline Hanson, "Personal Narratives of Belonging to two Countries: the US and China"

This research uses digital story method to examine the personal narratives and experiences of individuals who have migrated from America to China as well as from China to America. This project works to present the experience and relationship of the two countries through personal narratives.


Anastassia Fagan, "Development and Dispossession in Rural Cambodia"

Ambiguous land policies and national corruption have led to a substantial increase in land and human rights violations across the Kingdom of Cambodia. Traditional uses of land are being replaced by government-driven economic development, as farmers lose ancestral lands to developers and large-scale agribusiness interests. My substantial research project will review the historical, social, and economic contexts of the disputes to examine how and why the resulting human rights violations occur.


Caroline Robertson, "Chagos Archive: The Process of Building an Archive for a Displaced Population"

This SRP was inspired by my involvement in the Chagos Refugees Public Anthropology Clinic. In this clinic, other students and I explored best practices to create the first-ever human rights archive to document the violations committed against the Chagossians who were forcefully removed from their home by the U.S. and British governments. The goal of this project is to create an accessible online archive to house materials for Chagossians, academics, lawyers, and other allies of the Chagossians' struggle to return home. Currently, I am in the beginning stages of creating the website for the archive and expect to have this completed by the end of the semester. Once the website is developed, documents and electronic materials will be added to the archive to provide a visible platform for this often hidden human rights violation.


April 24

The Invisible Labor of "Beneficiaries" in the Somali Region of Ethiopia

Lauren Carruth, Anthropologist, School of International Service, American University

This talk will critically examine how so-called "beneficiaries" of humanitarian aid actually benefit from aid. Specifically, I lift a veil on the hard work many beneficiaries do – both through temporary jobs with humanitarian relief organizations and during temporary governmental food-for-work projects – to actualize and qualify for meager distributions of humanitarian relief in their communities. Both of these forms of labor – temporary aid work as well as temporary food-for-work—while associated with small increases in household resources, are at the same time potentially exploitative, and aid organizations and the federal government, respectively, benefit from the relative powerlessness of beneficiaries to protest, negotiate greater compensation, or improve the conditions in which they work. While beneficiaries' labor remains mostly invisible to donors and the media, it is also essential to the implementation of relief programs and the reproduction of inequalities within the aid industry.

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